A $50,000 tax break for Republican Senate nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz in Montgomery County has outraged some farmers over an “unethical” use of a tax break program to support working farms.
A report this week from the Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that the taxed appraisal of the famed heart surgeon’s 34-acre home in Lower Moreland is considered a forest reserve under Pennsylvania’s Clean and Green assistance program, reducing the taxed appraisal by $1 million and the property value was dropped from tax bills from $72,000 to $21,473.
“That $50,000 is a transfer of tax liability from him to other members and property owners in the community in which he lives,” said Dennis Wolff, a Columbia County dairy farmer and former head of the state’s Department of Agriculture under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell .
Wolff was one of a handful of farmers at a press briefing organized by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party Thursday morning, in which he called Oz’s inclusion in the tax refund program an insult to farmers and homeowners struggling to make ends meet.
“Many of them aren’t worth more than $100 million like Dr. Oz. Many of them live on steady incomes. A lot of them go from Social Security check to Social Security check just to pay for their groceries and buy their prescription drugs,” adds Wolff.
Former Bradford County Commissioner Janet Lewis, who estimated her 286-acre farm receives between $5,000 and $6,000 in relief, said Oz “exploited” the program.
“It shows that he has no concerns or any interest in farming in Pennsylvania. It’s basically a slap in the face to farmers, and it’s basically showing the nose to Pennsylvania taxpayers,” Lewis said.
The tax relief program began in 1974 and essentially acts as a deterrent to agricultural land development.
“(Clean and Green) was not a program designed specifically to conserve farms, but rather a program to conserve farmers to give them the opportunity to be competitive in their area,” said Harold Shaulis, Somerset County Dairy Farmer.
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“If you lived in an area that was being developed … your taxes were based on what it could sell to build a gas station or a Walmart. Clean and Green gave us the opportunity to tax this farmland based on what would become produce as farm grown,” Schaulis added.
Shaulis’ 360 acres allocates just over $1,000 in tax breaks through the program, but he noted that development demand in his area of southwestern Pennsylvania is much less than in a Philadelphia suburb like Montgomery County.
Oz acquired the property last December from the Academy of the New Church, the educational branch of the General Church of the New Jerusalem, according to county property records.
The estate previously had the same farmland tax break under the academy, but the Inquirer reported that Oz applied for the same break again in March.
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Oz’s campaign told the Inquirer that the candidate’s family is awaiting renovations to be completed at the property before moving in. Oz has reportedly moved in with his in-laws, the Lemole family, in Bryn Athyn since Republican Senator Pat Toomey announced in late 2020 that he would not be running for re-election this year.
The former TV host has faced constant criticism for changing his residency after decades of living in New Jersey. Oz attended medical school in Pennsylvania and his wife’s family has long lived in the Commonwealth.
“I need someone in the US Senate that I can trust … not someone from outside,” said Shaulis, a registered Republican.
Shaulis asked if an agreement on the sale between Oz and the Academy was a “glorified lease” giving Oz a “get-away clause” from Pennsylvania if he loses the November election to Democrat John Fetterman.
The agreement includes a stipulation that Oz will “do no structural improvements” on the property and gives the Academy first refusal if Oz decides to sell the property. The Lemole family is also a prominent member of the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which has its international church in Bryn Athyn.
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Fetterman criticized Oz in a Twitter post Tuesday about the tax break, saying Oz doesn’t want to live in Pennsylvania or pay taxes, “he just wants our Senate seat.”
The president of the Pennsylvania affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, Arthur G. Steinberg, issued a statement Thursday saying that Oz’s tax breaks also deprived the Lower Moreland School District of thousands of dollars in tax revenue.
“By taking advantage of a tax break on his $3.1 million mansion that is earmarked for farmers rather than celebrity New Jersey quacks, Mehmet Oz is taking money that would otherwise go into funding public schools. A millionaire who rips off families, students and teachers to benefit himself is the last person we want as a Pennsylvania representative in the US Senate.”
The Inquirer reported that Brittany Yanick, Oz’s campaign spokeswoman, indicated that the home purchase was more than a campaign necessity, saying Oz and his wife “have been hoping to buy[the property]for quite a while.” “.
“Dr. Oz bought the property in Bryn Athyn, where Lisa’s family has lived for over 100 years, and inherited the tax credit as part of the purchase. That’s quite a contrast to John Fetterman, who has a history of not paying taxes and relied on his family to support him well into his late 40’s. Fetterman continues to try desperately to deflect attention from his radical liberal record,” Yanick explained in an email to the news organization on Thursday evening.
A property line of Oz’s house borders the Bryn Athyn-Lower Moreland border.
Oz met with a group of more than two dozen Erie County farmers in June and vowed to reverse “nonsensical rules” and push for energy policies that would help both the state’s oil and gas and agribusiness industries.
However, the farmers, who joined Thursday’s press appeal, said Oz’s words were “hollow and contradictory” and supported Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, in November.
Pennsylvania is one of several key battleground states in the Senate race that could decide party control in Congress. The current Senate is split 50-50, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a potential tie-breaker. 21 Republican seats are on the ballot this November for the 14 Democrats.